Thursday, January 31, 2013

In the Beginning ... with Adrian Weimer

Our next post in thinking about teaching the early colonial period comes from Adrian Chastain Weimer, another favorite scholar of this blog. Professor at Providence College, she is the author of the tremendous book Martyrs' Mirror: Persecution and Holiness in Early New England. She, too, answers these questions: If you had to recommend one primary document (text, image, ... anything at all) from your field that exemplified some of the problems your book addresses AND speaks to main themes in American history at the time, what would it be? How would you guide discussion? What questions would you ask for an essay or exam that would incorporate it?" 


Dr. Adrian Chastain Weimer
The section about the martyr John Rogers in the New England Primer is preceded by an alphabet, proverbial sayings, creed, and numbers and is followed by short prayers. The Primer is a school book for children (and their parents). Why, then does it include an image of a martyr? English Protestant identity in the seventeenth century was steeped in the stories  of John Foxe's Actes and Monuments, more commonly known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs (from which this section in the Primer is excerpted). The Book of Martyrs was read alongside the Bible for models of holiness and resistance to religious and political corruption. In early New England, school children would have known that under the Catholic Queen Mary in the 1550s, hundreds of men and women burned at the stake rather than recant their Protestant beliefs. To be an English Protestant meant to resist Catholic tyranny, often associated with the rival empire of Spain (Queen Mary's husband was a Catholic Spanish King). John Rogers represented these English Protestant martyrs who "with wonderful Patience died couragiously for the Gospel of Jesus Christ." As you read John Roger's poem to his children, how does the experience of martyrdom translate into an ethic for everyday life? If the "Whore of Rome" is the Catholic church, how does this document speak to larger issues of the perceived danger of religious toleration?  How do you think the poem and image might have influenced the children encountering them?  

Essay topic: What are some of the sources of English Protestant identity in the seventeenth century? In what ways were religious and political identity closely intertwined? 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

For the first time ever, we have two black senators at the same time

As we teach Reconstruction early in the semester (or do we all do it at the end of the semester now, as a couplet to the Civil War), most of us probably show the 1878 image of the South Carolina legislature, with all those African Americans considered Radicals (see left).

I was stunned, then, by the news that today is the first day in United States history that we've ever had two black senators at the same time.  I saw the story in Slate, which reports that Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick will appoint Mo Cowan, an African American, to replace Sen. John Kerry, who has been approved as Secretary of State.  Cowan joins South Carolina's Tim Scott as fellow African Americans in the esteemed chamber.  So reports the story:

I'd thought that the Reconstruction era produced multiple black senators, and it did, but they served a few years apart. And since senators were appointed by legislatures until 1914, that means only three of the eight black senators were elected by voters.

Thus, those who are tempted to teach the history of the United States as one onward and upward need to temper their enthusiasms a bit.  There has of course been a good bit of progress, but it's more often two steps forward, one step back, or worse.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

In the Beginning ... with Linford Fisher

This spring, I'm teaching the second half of the U.S. history survey. We have 500 students, 8 teaching associates, and a whole bunch of new jokes I can't wait to use. But before that, I wanted to go back to the beginning - at least of how we usually teach United States history. I asked four colonial historians to share primary documents that they love to teach. I'll share a few this week, and then a few later in the semester. Today's discussion comes from Linford Fisher, Brown University historian, author of the tremendous new book The Indian Great Awakening, editor of a new set of historiographical essays on religion in the early Atlantic world, and a code breaker of Robert Langdon proportions. I posed this question to Dr. Fisher and the others: If you had to recommend one primary document (text, image, ... anything at all) from your field that exemplified some of the problems your book addresses AND speaks to main themes in American history at the time, what would it be? How would you guide discussion? What questions would you ask for an essay or exam that would incorporate it?" 


Okay, so my "primary source" is a bit odd, perhaps: the Indian Bible (Eliot Bible), or—more properly titled, Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God (1663). I like to think of it as a piece of material culture, as an object, as much as a printed primary source. On the one hand, it is indeed a conventional primary source. It contains the Algonquian translation of the entire Bible, largely brought into being by the Roxbury, Massachusetts, Congregational minister, John Eliot, who spent many years phoneticizing the oral language of the Massachusett Indians and turning it into a written language. 

But it is more than that. I love Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God because it represents the intense complexity of both the evangelization process and the reception by Natives, which in turn echo the incredible complexity of Native-European relations in the colonial period. On the surface, the "Indian Bible" is a thoroughly colonial document. It is largely the project of white English missionaries who are at the same time forming "praying towns" all across New England in which to corral "praying Indians" to encourage them to give up prime lands in exchange for the "privileges" of English civilization — English clothing, hair cuts, education, churches, houses, agricultural norms, etc. The Indian Bible quickly became an emblem of English missionary activity; of the first 1,000 printed, many were sent to England and dedicated to Charles II (perhaps wisely, in the post-Restoration era). 

And yet, it is more complicated than that. The Bibles weren't solely the product of Eliot's labors. Eliot had at least two Indian servants working with him on the translations over the course of a decade — Cockenoe and Job Nesutan (after all, how could Eliot have possibly continued his full-time ministry at Roxbury, set up missionary towns, and produced the Indian Bible?). A Nipmuc Indian, James, operated the press at Harvard College that produced the Bible, while two Wampanoag Indian students who were studying at Harvard, Caleb Cheeshahteamuck and Joel Iacoomes, likely aided in the translation, proof-reading, and printing as well. These Indian Bibles were also actually read and used by Natives ministers and laypersons, who struggled through them, memorized passages, and even wrote their thoughts on specific passages in the margins. Dozens of Indian Bibles exist today around the country that still contain the Algonquian (usually Massachusett or Wampanoag) language marginalia scribbled into the tiny margins of the Bible or scrawled across the title pages of the testaments or the Psalter (which was included in the back). (Interested readers can check out my Harvard Theological Review essay: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=3105716&fulltextType=RA&fileId=S0017816009000054)

Perhaps even more interesting to me is that these Bibles get used in surprising ways. During King Philip's War (1675-1676), Natives sought out and often burned these Bibles. In the post-war years, Eliot informed curious Europeans that all the Bibles had been destroyed in the war (perhaps by colonists, too!), which eventually led to a second printing, in 1685. When King Charles II received copies of the Indian Bible in the 1660s, he turned around and sent a copy to the Mohegan Indians as a sign of diplomacy, perhaps, but also with evangelistic aspirations. The Mohegans—who could not read it—took it seriously, however, and kept that copy safeguarded with the successive sachems over time. The Indian Bible was mentioned by Mohegan leaders in 1725 (when they thanked John Mason for his educational work with their children) and was also brought out in 1743 during a widely-attended land hearing in Norwich, Connecticut, that was part of the much longer Mohegan Land Controversy. In this case, the Mohegan Sachem Ben Uncas II wielded the Bible as a sign of his own Christianization as well as the civilization and allegiance of the Mohegans more generally. 

Although it would take a bit of explanation in lecture, the Bible itself could easily form the basis for a discussion in section or an exam question. I have already taken my classes to see one of Brown's several copies (the John Hay Library has Roger Williams' copy), and simply seeing the book in person and paging through the text prompts lots of discussion. Many of the proper names and nouns are untranslated. So Jesus Christ remains Jesus Christ, etc. The translation process itself combined with the various uses of the Bible by Natives over time (for preaching, personal Bible study, marginal reflections, as well as diplomatic power and association) all represent for me that fascinating, intertwining, and complex negotiations by Natives of their colonial worlds in this time period. 
- Linford Fisher

Friday, January 18, 2013

Groundhog Day, Again

Starting the US history survey feels a little like poor Phil Connor's life, since I teach it every single semester. Except I'm never quite getting it right, so I try it again a little differently each time. There's a certain sameness to the first day of class, of course - meeting new students who all look kind of generic until I learn their names and personalities; handing out syllabi; going through basically the same opening lecture. This term I think the deja vu will be more pronounced since I am teaching two sections back to back in the same classroom. Here was what I did on Groundhog Day 1 this term. Hopefully it wasn't like the day Phil dropped the toaster in the bathtub.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Desperate Sons

We don't run a lot of straight reviews at this blog, but every now and again a publisher asks us to ... and so we do. Here is a review of Les Standiford, Desperate Sons: Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, John Hancock and the Secret Band of Radicals Who Led the Colonies to War by blog reader, teacher, and friend Kevin Aycock.


In his work Desperate Sons, Les Standiford chronicles the development of political and social upheaval in British North American prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution. The premise of the work seeks to examine the development of the “Sons of Liberty” and its leaders as the main force behind the drive for colonial independence. While the book presents a detailed account of colonial discontent, the author fails at proving his thesis regarding the influence of the Sons of Liberty on the overall political climate of the eighteenth century.
     Desperate Sons presents a through account of colonial resistance to the various prerevolutionary British measures against the colonies (Stamp Act, Tea Act, Intolerable Acts, Quartering Act et.), but fails to provide significant contributions of the Sons of Liberty to these events. The Sons are mentioned in passing, but given the lack of cohesion among the individual groups, even the author himself admits it is difficult to account for the various groups who took on the moniker. Given this difficulty, the majority of the work focuses on the political upheaval in colonial Massachusetts and New York with the central characters in this movement being Samuel Adams and the various British political and military leaders of the eighteenth century.
     Standiford’s work provides a detailed account of colonial struggles against primarily two British economic measures: the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Tea Act of 1773. While other colonies such as South Carolina and Virginia are mentioned in passing, Standiford focuses the majority of the work on the actions of the colonists of Massachusetts and New York. In each colony, Standiford provides a detailed account of the political, social and economic means by which the colonists attempted to force Parliament into repealing the acts. The central argument employed throughout the narrative was the colonist’s belief Parliament lacked the authority to impose internal taxes on its North American possessions. Adams and others frequently assert this is a matter for the colonial legislatures and not the British parliaments given the colonists have any representation in the body (“No taxation without representation).
     At times the narrative becomes heavy laden with names and minute facts, which make it difficult for the reader; however, the work is overall a quick read. Standiford provides significant support from primary sources, though secondary scholarship is often mentioned in passing, and paints a detailed image for the reader. In addition, frequent comparisons to current events allow the reader to develop a historical context for the events of the eighteenth century.
     Given the breadth of the topic under investigation, the title seems misleading given the contents. While the Sons of Liberty are mentioned in passing, it is difficult to make the connection with their actions and the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. At times in the narrative, the author makes a more convincing argument for the Committees of Correspondence as the chief impetus for the conflict. The work of the committees and the Sons often overlapped, and both organizations shared similar membership in most colonies. Overall, a more compelling argument can be made for the Committees of Correspondence as opposed to the Sons of Liberty.
     Standiford concludes by asserting the centrality of Samuel Adams in the prerevolutionary movement. It is his prolific writing on behalf of the radicals that Standiford believes became the driving force for revolution. Given his role in the Stamp Act and Tea Act crisis, as well as, organizing the Committees of Correspondence and the First and Second Continental Congress, Adams does become overlooked in the independence story by his contemporaries (Washington and Jefferson).
     Desperate Sons provides a “popular history” approach to the prerevolutionary period in the colonies and makes a good read for the novice historian of the period. However, for serious scholarly study, the work requires more investigation and evidence to support the claim the Sons of Liberty led the colonies to war.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

History in the Classroom

I just stumbled on this webpage out of New York University about teaching American history, called, funnily enough, History in the Classroom.  It's got some great links, some wonderful videos, and an image of Jesse Lemisch speaking at an anti-Vietnam rally in 1966 (see left).  What could be better?

Historian Robert Cohen direct "The Classroom Project," and the site features his lesson plans (and that of others) as well as everything else.  Coming out of NYU, which, probably because of its location, is a hotbed for conferences and book talks, the site also has numerous videos of authors talking about their latest work, including talks by Robert P. Moses, Kim Phillips-Fein, Mark Naison, Patricia Sullivan, Tom Hayden, Hasia Diner, Ira Berlin, and more.

Cohen is of course a great historian of the 1960s, so there is a good bit on the Freedom Movement, Mario Savio, and the New Left.  Check it out.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Teaching Topics at the AHA

Did you know that history professors spend about four times as many hours teaching as opposed to researching?

There was a panel at the AHA in New Orleans on Teaching US History (TUSH!), and, in light of President William Cronon's presidential address asking us all to make ourselves relevant by becoming better teachers and recognizing that we are, first and foremost, story tellers, I thought the panel was fascinating.

A write-up on the panel, from Inside Higher Ed, is here.  One of the suggestions is to watch other professors teach in order to learn new techniques.  Amen to that, but that's also one of the things we're trying to do here!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

What's cooking for the new semester?

There's nothing quite like returning from the winter holidays still preoccupied by culinary endeavors!  This term, I'm providing historical recipes to students (via our LMS) in a vague attempt to introduce a practical element of American social history.  What people ate, what they considered important enough to write down and publish, and suggestions for serving food comprise keys to a lived history that can address everything from agricultural scarcity/abundance, class, and eventually (at least by the early 1800s) the great American tradition of advertising food stuffs.  Well, there's that...and then there's the fact that some students may simply enjoy cooking, and it could provide a unique way to engage with the past.

If one lives in a large metropolitan area, replete with fabulous libraries, historical recipes might not be so hard to find.  A quick search of the New York Public Library, for example, turned up several sources like the Whitney Cookery Collection, spanning the years 1400 - 1895.  

Most of us, however, would find it difficult to physically locate ourselves in those libraries, patiently locating, retrieving, and digitizing recipes to share as we march through the survey.

There are several online sources, if you are so inclined!  


The Library of Congress is a great place to start.  There are larger PDF files like:


Some schools, like Duke and the University of Michigan, have digitized parts of their rare book collection.  These libraries include gems like:



Or, there are American oddities like the recipe for the U.S. Senate's Navy Bean Soup.  Trust me, it's really delicious.  



As with most obsessive internet searches, I've learned I'm not too unique in this endeavor.  Several internet collections exist ("Not By Bread Alone"), television shows (PBS' "A Taste of History"), and too-many-to-count blogs that focus on regional delicacies (like UL's Robert Carriker and his famed boudin site).

The wealth of resources, however, means that one still could spend hours finding a good recipe to represent a certain time/event - but that's always half of the fun!